A few weeks ago, Gimme co-founder Cory Hewett announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of the vending startup to pursue new entrepreneurial interests. Co-founder Evan Jarecki will be stepping up as the chief executive.
Gimme is a startup that has been featured several times over the years on Hypepotamus as it scaled to be part of the tech deployed at grocery stores and vending machines across the country.
Over the last nine years, the two co-founders have had a “highly supportive” relationship and have taken an “opposite-yet-complementary” approach to building the business, Hewett told Hypepotamus.
Now, stepping away from a startup is a difficult decision for any founder. But their thought process can give us insight into the leadership style of the team and what direction the company is moving in next.
We asked Hewett and Jarecki to reflect on their time building Gimme to date. Below, they share how the built up their executive team, reached “slow and steady growth,” and what is next for the Atlanta startup:
QUESTION: Hypepotamus has covered Gimme several times over the years. But for those who aren’t familiar, take us back to the very very beginning of the idea. When did you know you had a problem that you were ready to solve?
We started with clean focus: keep vending machines stocked with the right snacks.
I got the idea because of owning vending and gumball machines when I was in grade school. It’s a cash-based industry. Tracking cash, sales, planograms, and inventory happened with pen and paper, then I would re-enter it into a spreadsheet when I got home. When I eventually left for college and paid a younger classmate to help me manage it, the problem became obvious… we only “made” the cash he deposited, we only “sold” what we wrote down.
Creating the solution was more challenging. We wanted to build “the app for that” but in 2014 there did not exist a way to get a smartphone and a vending machine to “talk” electronically. But my co-founder and I were both engineering students at Georgia Tech so we decided we could overcome the technical challenges, invent the missing parts, and ultimately joined the inaugural cohort of Create-X.
Creating the solution required building custom hardware (the original “Gimme Key”) to enable our software (“Gimme Drive”), categorizing us as a HESaaS startup (Hardware-Enabled Software as a Service). (We would later learn that having hardware made us less attractive to typical SaaS funds, and software made us less attractive to typical hardware funds.)
We got extremely lucky to launch with our first customer, Dan Hart and Southern Refreshment Services, who exceeded all expectations for a champion early adopter. Working with them, we discovered additional enterprise benefits, like improving cash accountability (to prevent cash shrinkage by employees), optimizing scheduling of when to restock machines, and increasing revenue through better merchandising of product planograms.
Their enthusiasm was critical to validate us and our solution, unlocking our ability to attract funding and new customers.
Since then, the company has expanded vertically and horizontally. We now offer a full Inventory Management Software Platform for food service operators, handling warehousing, inventory control, scheduling, reporting, and other critical operational functions. We also provide enterprise invoicing solutions to household-name food brands and food distributors, built on our patented and copyright-protected hardware device (upgraded and relaunched as the “Gimme Key Pro”).
Q: In the early days of the team, how did you think about hiring at the executive level? How about hiring throughout the company? How did you scale over the years?
We owe any of our success to our first customer, and then to startup mentors and senior leaders in the food and beverage industry, who shared their experiences and contact lists with us. Evan and I were both first-time startup founders. Energetic, passionate, raw curiosity with some intellectual horsepower, but naive and (at least for me) a tendency for brashness.
They guided us around “startup ending” mistakes, made some intelligent opening moves, and volunteered their contact list to individuals when we had specific obstacles to overcome; through their implicit endorsement we were “put on the map.” I’m thinking about guys like David Cummings and John Lally (our first two angels), Coca-Cola guys like Bill Levisay and Chris Lowe, and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) like John Lanza and Julie Lutfi (IP/legal), Peter Baron and Paulette Brown (PR), Daniel Roberts and Carl Newton (media and content), Glenn Butler (technical), even competitive “frenemies”, and many, many others too long to individually list.
The discovery that personally fascinated me the most: if we had to hire some of these individuals, we never would have been able to afford them. For some that became investors, all of a sudden they would responsively answer our calls and emails! The cash was necessary for activities, like paying the hardware NREs (Non-Recurring Engineering) to get our first mass-produced units commercialized, certified, and shipped; but their subsequent “advisory” services gave us an A-list virtual “C-Suite.” While I absolutely valued it in the moment, with retrospect and more battlescars, I could have better appreciated and utilized their tremendous expertise.
For hiring our team members we, again, got lucky to connect with team members who shared our core values. I’m thinking about some of our senior technical team members. I honestly and truly believe our most senior developer, Andrey Melnyk, is the most intelligent technical problem-solver I have ever met, and his interests overlapping the business’ product needs allowed some real magic to happen along the way. We were joined along the way by talented individuals also early in their careers who provided outsized value. We also made some mistakes, occasionally hiring too soon or individuals that were not a good fit. Firing people is one of the worst parts of my entrepreneurial journey; the discomfort is barely reduced even when it was “for cause.”
Q: Talk to us about big milestones for the company over the last few years. What were some big accomplishments? Biggest barriers to growth?
Big accomplishments that stand out to us primarily have to do with our customers and their networks. We’ve deployed our invoicing hardware on over 20k grocery delivery trucks with banner enterprise customers like Campbells, Bimbo Bakeries, Red Bull, and Little Debbie. We’ve implemented our HESaaS inventory management platform on over 55k vending machines, micro markets, and office coffee locations. Between these two products, we’ve been awarded our Industry’s Product of the Year in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
We’re extremely proud of what our team has accomplished over the last nine years, and there are a number of recent wins, too. Gimme was named Top Machine Learning Company in GA (2022), TAG Top 40 Most Innovative Company (2016-2018, 2021), Atlanta Inno Tech Madness Winner (2021), and Best B2B Startup (2018). We have a strong record of market-focused innovation (including multiple patents), product delivery, partner development, and financial performance.
In our industry, Gimme has experienced more slow and steady growth over the years rather than “hockey-stick”. Sales cycles are long, and technology is changed infrequently. We make a lot of face-to-face appearances and our sales happen mostly through customer referrals. We’re fortunate to start seeing some of our most significant growth in recent years, especially coming out of some tough years during the pandemic.
Q: Changing leadership roles is always a big deal for companies. Cory, how did you know it was the right time to step down from the CEO seat and explore new opportunities?
We’ve been working on my transition for a while now, making sure the timing is right for the company, our customers, and our team. I’ve been leading the company for almost 9 years, or about 25% of a typical “career.” The company has reached a number of milestones I am super proud of, with even bigger things on the horizon. We’ve got our biggest software implementation to-date coming up in a few weeks, and even larger deals waiting behind it in our pipeline. Evan has a gift for relationships that will valuably serve the company during its next chapter.
At the same time, I’m extraordinarily energetic towards electrification initiatives – things that include power generation and distribution to productization of EV charging experiences, and ecosystems around electric RVs, motorcycles, and watercraft. 40% of Americans now report they are considering an EV for their next vehicle purchase and the need for innovators and entrepreneurs to build solutions in this space has never been stronger than it is today.
Q: Evan, as you step into the CEO seat, what are you most looking forward to? How did you know this was also the right next step in your career?
Cory mentioned we’ve been working on this for a while. When we took a step back to assess what Gimme needs, to grow and unlock more value to our customers and industry, it became clear that I would be the right fit for this role. I’ve made it a point to build deep relationships with our customers and partners over the years, and we think this will be even more important to grow moving forward. Our company is on a mission to make the most efficient and accurate food & beverage deliveries from vending machines to grocery stores. Cory’s vision and product expertise got us off the ground and out of the atmosphere — I can help propel us to Mars.
I’m a lifelong learner, and typically seek out challenges. I’m going into this role with an open mind, and I’m most excited to be challenged and break through this discomfort. The skillset I’m going in with today won’t be the same in a couple of years, and I’m eager to see how my knowledge expands.
- (Evan): Communicate, don’t make assumptions on co-founder individual goals and intentions for the company. We’ve always been open about what we want personally and where we want to take Gimme, and stayed on the same page. Now, even while an individual change is happening, we still have Gimme’s best interest in mind.
- (Cory): Communication too. Early and often. If I make myself vulnerable and expose my weaknesses…I think we did a great job communicating neutral and positive happenings, but tended to minimize conversation around negatives, which surprised stakeholders later when those challenges changed, reappeared, or upgraded – “shareholders don’t like surprises.” Sometimes even for good news. I think I became fixated on being “articulate” in all of my communications, so I would hold certain things back until we were better educated, better informed, and more mature with certain things before we brought up some topics – good and bad. I remember early in our journey with big brand-names in our grocery (“Gimme DSD”) division, we signed a pretty significant deal. I was proud to share it in our weekly investor update email, but I got some feedback from an investor. While they were proud of the outcome, they were wondering why some shareholders were only now becoming aware it was part of our pipeline to begin with and why we didn’t bring it up sooner. I thought I was optimizing for only sharing news when it was pertinent and actionable, but the downside of this approach was eliminating “FYI” context for people who have our best interests in mind.
Want more Gimme news?
Cory Hewett has an interview up on EO Atlanta’s podcast “Taking Flight”
Check out the Gimme Vending website
Follow Gimme’s LinkedIn